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Fiat Currencies May be Replaced by Gold Standard

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Washington’s Blog
Friday, April 10, 2009

Gillian Tett is the head financial writer for the Financial Times, one of the leading mainstream financial publications. Investment analyst and financial writer Yves Smith says of Tett:

[Whatever] Tett is writing about … will be taken seriously, since Tett is read by central bankers.

So it is newsworthy that Tett writes today that the odds of a return to the gold standard are increasing:

A panel at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos … was asked to produce one concrete recommendation to fix the global financial crisis.

The top pick? … a new reserve currency, akin to an old-style gold standard….

Moreover, these musings about a gold standard are currently cropping up in all manner of unlikely places. One savvy European property developer (who aggressively sold most of his holdings in early 2007) recently told me that he is now moving a growing proportion of his assets from government bonds into gold, even at today’s elevated prices.

“The logical conclusion of where we will end up eventually is with some type of gold standard,” he explains, arguing that future inflation will almost inevitably cause a future collapse in government bonds.

Half a world away in the Middle East, some sovereign wealth funds now say that they are stocking up enthusiastically on food and gold, due to similar reasoning.

Meanwhile, in New York a (still) formidable American hedge fund recently circulated private research that echoes the reasoning of Mr Smith. Most notably, this hedge fund points out that since the world abandoned the gold standard on August 15, 1971 credit creation has spiralled completely out of control.

But this four-decade long experiment with fiat currency is not just something of a historical aberration, it argues – but potentially very fragile too. After all, the only thing that ever underpins a fiat currency is a belief that governments are credible. In the past 18 months that belief has been tested to its limits. In coming years it could be shattered, particularly if the current wave of extraordinary policy measures unleashes a wild bout of inflation.

Hence that chatter about a gold standard. Indeed, as the debate bubbles up, some financiers are now even e-mailing each other an extraordinary little essay that Alan Greenspan himself wrote in support of a gold standard back in the 1960s, called “Gold and Economic Freedom”*….

“Under a gold standard, the amount of credit that an economy can support is determined by the economy’s tangible assets . . . [but] in the absence of the gold standard . . . there is no safe store of value,” Greenspan wrote back then, pointing out that without a gold standard in place, there is little to prevent governments indulging in wild credit creation. “Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights.”…

Shell-shocked investors are increasingly reluctant to rule anything out, as they stare at such uncharted waters. So while I would not bet today on a gold standard returning any time soon, I would also not bet that the debate dies away. Nor would I bet that the gold price crashes too far from its current rate of $900, while so much fear continues to stalk the world.

Bottom line? Even mainstream financial players are starting to mull a return to the gold standard. While it would not happen any time soon, it might happen in the medium-term future.

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This article was posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 at 3:54 am





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